II.C.3 Awakening’s Secular Antithesis in the Enlightenment

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelistic Theology

 Subpart C  –  The Awakenings of Evangelicalism

Article 3   

THE AWAKENING’S SECULAR ANTITHESIS IN THE ENLIGHTENMENT

           

If the believing heart was benefited by the evangelical Spirit that blew through Christian orthodoxy in the Great Awakening bearing a witness of a personal-salvation, the unbelieving heart was not without its strengthening as well.   With the new and spiritual revelation of God’s personal-work within the man unto salvation came the rejection of that truth by wider society.   Thus the Great Awakening brought with it an amplification of the human spirit in the cause of unbelief.  A new wind blew through the secular realm of human affairs fed by the writings of a new caste of philosophers who heralded the humansolution as the answer to the humandilemma.  Prophets of the secular, such names as Voltaire and Rosseau advanced-upon the social contract as the basis of human society and civilization and heralded human reason as the guiding light of mankind.  The Age of Enlightenment resulted in significant advancement in the sciences and thought and was characterized by an intensified focus upon the natural.  The Enlightenment was a definite movement rejecting things divine and embracing the human.   The American colonies of the New World became a particularly opportune medium for testing these new political and societal philosophies – the principle manifesto of which arising in the publication of Thomas Paine’s influential book; Rights of Man.

At the time Rights of Man was published Thomas Paine had already risen from relative obscurity to high public acclaim through his pamphlet; Common Sense[1] which had tapped into the existing-colonial hostilities against the crown of England and made Paine the de facto mouthpiece for the American Revolution.  Common Sense was heavily influenced by such thinkers as Rousseau[2]  arguing the proposition that man in his natural-state is intrinsically good while castigating government as the great evil, albeit necessary.

After the success of the American revolution Paine returned to Europe where he joined other intellectuals and philosophers in encouraging the French Revolution, even being presented with the key to the hated French Bastille by Lafeyette in 1790.  However the violence and excesses that were occurring in France turned the British government severely against Paine’s cause.  His book; Rights of Man was published in 1791 as a defense of the French Revolution and became something of a manifesto for the new democratic-thought that was rapidly emerging in the world.

Paine did not hesitate to resort to Scripture in expressing his manifesto for democracy, and  clothed his arguments in religious-language – often invoking the teachings of Christ to support his views of a new day for the human spirit. He wrote that as Christ’s lineage can be traced to Adam, so can the rights of man be traced to Adam’s creation.  Indeed, that Paine held his beliefs as a religion itself comes across distinctly in his writings.  He describes the force of his arguments as driven by “the irresistible nature of truth”[3] that shall raise man to become “what he ought”.[4]  Paine raised his argument squarely to the level of divine truth,[5] arguing the “unity of man” as equally possessed of “rights” by virtue of his creation.[6]  These rights endowed by His Creator man may deposit into a “common stock” from which he may draw benefits:

He therefore deposits this right in the common stock of society, and takes the arm of society, of which he is a part, in preference and in addition to his own.  Society grants him nothing.  Every man is a proprietor in society, and draws on the capital as a matter of right.[7]

This unity of man Paine identified in the principle of Civil Power – which although imperfect in the individual, may be wielded with focus and effect in the aggregate. [8]

Not inconsistent with his Quaker up-bringing, Paine viewed commerce as the tonic against the strife of nations and; “the greatest approach towards universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles.”[9]  Likewise, borrowing upon Locke, he considered money as  a proper analogy for the blood of human society since:

Like blood, it cannot be taken from any of the parts without being taken from the whole mass in circulation and all partake of the loss.  When the ability in any nation to buy is destroyed, it equally involves the seller.  . . . It is possible that a nation may be the carrier for the world, but she cannot be the merchant.  She cannot be the seller and the buyer of he own merchandize (sic).  The ability to buy must reside out of herself; and therefore, the prosperity of any commercial nation is regulated by the prosperity of the rest.  If they are poor she cannot be rich, and her condition, be it what it may, is an index of the height of the commercial tide in other nations.[10]

Concisely, commerce (the medicine) creates wealth (the blood), which allows man to continue in peace and harmony with his fellow man, to flourish, and to become all he was meant to be.

Paine concluded that no government may validly exist apart from this principle of the governed deciding that it should so be.   Paine argued that the only element of human power was man, who alone had the right to abolish or establish his governance.[11]  This push for universal-democracy came with a boast concerning that first great-example; America.  Paine promised that; “What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude.”[12]

Paine excoriated the rule of kings as “the enemy of mankind and the source of misery”, the  overthrow of which constituting the “renovation of the natural order of things, a system of principles as universal as truth and the existence of man, and combining moral with political happiness and national prosperity.”[13]  His disdain for monarchy caused him to attack from every possible vantage, including attacks upon their fitness even as men for ruler-ship, saying such things as; “The artificial Noble shrinks into a dwarf before the Noble of Nature,”[14] and “It requires some talents to be a common mechanic; but, to be a king, requires only the animal figure of man – a sort of breathing automaton.”[15]

John Adams, while himself opposed to Paine’s anti-establishment energies believed that it was this man’s voice that had been the most influential in the latter eighteenth-century.[16]   Paine’s words rode upon a new fountain that had been opened unto men – a new strength to pursue the human potential in evermore efficient and unhindered ways – and there was nothing modest in Paine’s offer to show mankind his proper course, to “analyze the mass of common errors” and “promises [of] a new era to the human race.”[17]  Indeed, Paine’s fitness for this task is self-attested:

. . . and with all the inconvenience of early life against me, I am proud to say, that with a perseverance undismayed by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compelled respect, I have not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world,  founded on a new system of government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival.[18]

Upon this boast he announced; “a morning of reason rising upon man on the subject of government, that has not appeared before.”[19]  This new dawn he based in the proposition that:

. . . man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man, and that human nature is not of itself vicious.  That spirit of jealousy and ferocity which the governments of the two countries inspired . . . is now yielding to the dictates of reason, interest, and humanity.[20]

The immediate popularity Rights of Man roused the government of England against Paine forcing his flight to France and his conviction in absentia for high treason against the crown.  As an honored celebrity in Paris, he was influential in bringing an end to the French monarchy.  However, the lawless condition of France and the terrors produced by the revolution caused him to barely escape the guillotine himself, seeking refuge with James Monroe who was at that time the American ambassador to France.   It was during his time with Monroe that Paine wrote The Age of Reason – a synopsis of the deistic-beliefs contemplated in The Enlightenment. 

While Paine had often quoted freely the teachings of Christ and laced his language with Scriptural-themes these were gratuitous and insincere gestures made all the more duplicitous by his later open-hostility to the interests of Christ.  Paine denied the deity of Jesus Christ – attacking the Christian faith with religious-zeal.   In his introduction to Paine’s Rights of Man, Eric Foner writes concerning Paine’s last two pamphlets:

The first was an exposition of Deism and an attack on the basic principles of Christianity, rejecting the Bible as the revealed word of God and exalting reason and science as modes of understanding the natural world.  Reprinted in countless editions, the pamphlet became the most popular Deist work ever written.  It established Paine as an inspiration to nineteenth-century freethinkers, but alienated devout believers, who tarred Paine, inaccurately, with the labels of “infidel” and “atheist”.[21]

While (certainly) by-definition a deist would not be an atheist,[22] Paine’s philosophy certainly fit the Johannine –definition for antichrist.[23]   As such, absent from Paine’s philosophizing upon our first progenitor (Adam) was any acceptance of the doctrine of original sin and therefore neither had he  consideration of the need for an atonement.  He writes:

Man finds himself changed, he scarcely perceives how.  He acquires a knowledge of his rights by attending justly to his interests . . . in order to be free, it is sufficient that he wills it.”[24]

Absent the contemplation of this principle of sin, in Paine’s mind the human race was as fit for self-rule as he had the liberty and power to self-determine.  The true head of authority of man, Jesus Christ had no part in Paine’s philosophy.

The Enlightenment was a movement that would carry the many briskly upon a new spirit of unbelief.  On the other hand, faith perceives such a way as ultimately ending in collapse for want of a true foundation.  On the day the soul suddenly awakens to the need of a spiritual remedy for the spiritual disease of sin – its common stock in the “unity of man” shall be no answer to the Spirit’s-demand:

Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer?  Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?                                                                                    Is. 50:2

 While Paine rarely cited a source other than the Bible in conveying his message, he nonetheless  denied its theme through his denial of the Son of God – a contradiction which on the one hand allowed him to brag upon himself as a builder of empires and success in ways which “the aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival”.  And while Paine may himself have been of that “Noble of Nature” before whom “the artificial Noble shrinks” such nobility was not so apparent in his latter years which proved emblematic of his message, as Foner describes:

His final years were ones of “lonely, private misery.”  Isolated from his old associates, drinking heavily, he died in 1809.  Six mourners attended the funeral of the man who had once inspired millions to think in new ways about the world in which they lived, and his death passed virtually unnoticed in the American press.[25]

After the many hundreds of years since the first-century that had been characterized by a dearth of religious truth and by spiritual-doldrums, the eighteenth-century brought a remarkable return of the divine power to effectuate the redemption of men.  Through the new evangelicalism that was occasioned by the Great Awakening and the various movements in Europe that included Primitive Methodism, God was beginning to return the saving strength of His “right hand”[26] that is Christ.

With the effectual movement of the Spirit of God came a witness in the earth that (while it could be rejected) could not be ignored.  The eighteenth-century western-man stood with the benefit of a hundred years of holiness-teaching and a new advent of the regenerating work of the Spirit of God – and if he was to choose a different way than that laid out for him through the testimony of Jesus Christ then he must be allowed to gird himself with strength for the difficult task at hand as is alluded by the prophecy:

Associate yourselves, O ye people, & ye shall be broken in pieces; & give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, & ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, & ye shall be broken in pieces.                                  Is. 8:9

 Rejecting the testimony of God concerning His Son, man is given the spirit he requires to pursue his own way.   The path to destruction is made broad for the unbelieving heart in wake of  the witness of Christ.

“If I told you earthly things & you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”        John 3:12

The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of men!


[1] Common Sense was released on January 10, 1776.

[2] For example, Paine writes; “. . we find in the writings of Rousseau, and the Abbe Raynal, a loveliness of sentiment in favour of Liberty, that excites respect, and elevates the human faculties.”  Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, Penguin Classics © 1984 at pg. 94.

[3] Ibid. pg. 159

[4] Ibid. pg. 160

[5] ie. he writes; “The illuminating and divine principle of the equal rights of man, (for it has its origin from the Maker of man) relates, not only to the living individuals, but to generations of men succeeding each other.” Ibid. pg. 66

[6] Paine identifies the right to speech as one example of such rights (Ibid. pg. 90)  and therefore seems to have in mind rights of a similar vein as those that had been codified in the Bill of Rights.

[7] Ibid. pg. 69

[8] Ibid. pg. 69

[9] [9] From Paine’s treatise; Of the Old & New Systems of Government, Chapter II, Ibid. pg. 213.

[10] Ibid. pg. 213

[11] Ibid. pg. 142

[12] [12] From Paine’s treatise; Of the Old & New Systems of Government, Chapter II,  Ibid. pg. 180

[13] Ibid. pg. 144

[14] Ibid. pg. 84

[15] From Paine’s treatise; Of the Old & New Systems of Government, Chapter II, Ibid. pg. 175

[16]  Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, Penguin Classics © 1984 – Cover; Quote from John Adams (1805):  “I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine.”

[17] Ibid. pg. 162

[18] Ibid. pg. 219

[19] [19] From Paine’s treatise; Of the Old & New Systems of Government, Chapter II, Ibid. pg. 208

[20] Ibid. pg. 210

[21] Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, Penguin Classics © 1984 – Introduction by Eric Fonder pg. 20.

[22] DEISM:  The religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine the universe is the product of a deity.  According to deists God never intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe.  – Source: Wikipedia    Given this definition a Deist would arguably be a functional Atheist given his denial of God’s involvement in human affairs.  Consistent with this argument is Paine’s directing man to nature for answers rather than to God; “. . man must go back to nature for information.” (Ibid. pg. 160)

[23] I John 2:22  “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?  He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”

[24] [24] From Paine’s treatise; Of the Old & New Systems of Government, Chapter II, Ibid. pg. 210

[25] Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine, Penguin Classics © 1984 – Introduction by Eric Fonder pg. 21.

[26] Isaiah 41:10  “. . I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.”

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About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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